Many students struggle with self-acceptance, and a lack of self-acceptance leads to unhappiness, less resilience, and issues with self-esteem and confidence. To some degree, this is a normal part of being a teenager, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.
In plain English, self-acceptance means being okay with who you are as a whole, not just your virtues, but also your flaws.1 And since everyone has flaws, learning to accept all parts of yourself – the good and the not-so-good – is essential.
Here are seven ways for students to practice self-acceptance.
1. Accept that school is hard.
One reason many students struggle with self-acceptance is that they struggle in school. Moreover, they carry around the assumption that school is supposed to be easy. And since it’s hard for them, they conclude that there must be something wrong with them.
The first step toward overcoming this mindset is understanding that school is supposed to be hard. One of the primary purposes of school is to challenge your mind. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be very beneficial. So struggling isn’t bad. Struggle makes you stronger.
The second step is to acknowledge that, when you learn something new, you’re not supposed to just instantly get it. You’re not at school to impress your teachers with how much you already know. You’re not at school to impress your peers with how quick you are. You’re there to learn and grow.
And finally, you need to embrace “mechanical solutions” – strategies that make it easier to learn and play the game of school. For you see, the problem is not you. There’s nothing wrong with you. School is just hard. And the sooner you accept that, the more easily you will accept yourself.
2. Cultivate self-efficacy.
That said, making school easier by learning how to study effectively couldn’t hurt. True confidence is a product of self-efficacy – the belief, based on real evidence, that you have what it takes to meet life’s challenges. So build up your skills through study and practice – be they math skills, writing skills, learning techniques, or executive function strategies. Self-acceptance is easier when you feel effective.
3. Cultivate healthy self-esteem.
But no matter how good you are, there will always be someone better. And if you base your self-esteem on how you compare to others, you’ll struggle to see yourself as good enough. So instead of comparing yourself to other people, compare yourself to your past self. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re better than other people. Focus on becoming a little bit better than you were yesterday.
This will help you shift from dependent self-esteem – where your sense of self-worth comes from the outside – to independent self-esteem – where your sense of self-worth comes from within.
Another way to do this is to collaborate with your peers. Form study groups or take on extracurricular projects with your classmates. This will help combat the culture of competition that is ubiquitous in our schools.
Also, remember that you are more than your grades. You might wish you had higher grades or better test scores, but you don’t have to be defined by those things. You are a complicated, dynamic human being. You have value, even if you’re doing poorly in school.
4. Abandon perfectionism.
On the other hand, some students struggle with self-acceptance while doing very well in school, and this is because of perfectionism. If a student believes that the only version of themselves that is “good enough” is the version that’s perfect, they’ll never be able to accept themselves because they’ll always be falling short of that ideal.
To overcome perfectionism, you need to understand that perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an impossibly high standard to hold yourself to. Accept that, in the real world, no one has ever been perfect, and give yourself permission to be human.
Also, know that giving up on perfectionism doesn’t mean giving up on striving for excellence. You can see yourself as good enough and work on becoming better.
If this is something you have a hard time with, click here for a deep dive into overcoming perfectionism.
5. Understand that your “self” isn’t fixed.
You are not a finished product. Because your brain can change, you can change.
This is the essence of having a growth mindset. You can make mistakes and fall short of your ideal without beating yourself up over it. Instead, you can use the lessons of failure as fuel for continued growth.
Knowing that you are not done – that you are a work in progress – makes it easier to accept yourself when you find that you’re not as good as you’d like to be.
6. Practice acceptance in general.
Practicing self-acceptance is really a specific case of a broader acceptance practice. In Buddhism, it is taught that non-acceptance is the source of suffering – that when we resist the problems we have, we make them worse.2 In other words, suffering equals pain times resistance.
The better you get at accepting whatever life gives you, the more easily you will accept yourself. This doesn’t mean that when something goes wrong, you just passively let it be. It means that when something goes wrong, you get to work fixing it without getting needlessly upset. Or when it is something you can’t do anything about, like getting stuck in traffic, you simply accept it and maybe even use it as an opportunity to practice patience. Of course, this is easier said than done. That’s why it’s called “a practice.”
In particular, you need to practice accepting other people as they are if you want to be able to accept yourself. Permission to be human works best when it’s extended to everyone else as well as to yourself. Your friends and your family are also imperfect human beings. Your teachers are too. The more harshly you judge them, the more harshly you’ll judge yourself. If you’re always pointing the finger outwardly, at some point, you’ll find yourself staring into the mirror, pointing the finger at yourself.
(See also: 5 Ways You Can Practice Acceptance)
7. Practice self-care.
Lastly, self-acceptance comes more easily when you practice self-care. Take time to exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep. Take breaks. Do things you enjoy. Play. Spend time with the people you love.
The highest form of self-acceptance is self-love, and practicing self-care is the best way to cultivate self-love.
1 Ackerman, Courtney E. “What is Self-Acceptance? 25 Exercises + Definition and Quotes.”
2 Wright, Robert. Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Chris Loper has been an academic coach for Northwest Educational Services since 2014. Along with Greg Smith, Chris is the cocreator of Parenting for Academic Success (and Parental Sanity) – a five-part course offered every summer.
He writes the popular self-improvement blog Becoming Better, so if you liked this article, head on over to becomingbetter.org and check out his other work.
Chris also offers habit coaching, helping busy adults with habit formation and productivity.
In 2021, he published a humorous memoir titled Wood Floats and Other Brilliant Observations, a book that blends crazy stories with practical life lessons, available on Amazon and through most local bookstores.
He lives in Issaquah, WA, where he is the owner of South Cove Tutoring.